One of the common objections to the “God-concept”* given by agnostics is the idea that “if, in short, there is a community of computers living in my head, there had also better be somebody who is in charge; and by god, it had better be me” (Jerry Fodor). We want–to use cheesy movie terminology–to choose our own destiny. We want to eat fortune cookies until we find a fortune we like and go with that one, ignoring the preceding fortunes. Movies in which an oppressed minority protagonist rises above despite the odds to become more than s/e was born to be are continually successful despite a complete lack of originality. Why?
*(a term I’m going to operationalize as the systematic theology surrounding the nature of God in a Christian context.)
We want control. Maybe it’s a culture thing or it’s American society, maybe it’s intrinsic; I don’t actually know (though Nisbett’s Geography of Thought does allude to Asian cultures and societies emphasizing an external locus of control–contrast with the West’s internal one, suggesting it’s more cultural/societal than it is intrinsic). We watch cheesy aforementioned movies to–among other things–relate to the protagonist and, even for a second, believe that we, too, can “change our stars.” (A Knight’s Tale). “Control” is cited as one of the number one reasons for cutting (Favazza, 1987) and Sociologists name “control” as the primary cause of violent crimes like rape and domestic violence (citation needed…though I think this might count as common knowledge). I would argue (albeit without a whole lot of empirical backing) that the success of games like World of Warcraft, Runescape, Elder Scrolls (Morrowind and Oblivion), etc. also comes back to the idea that “while in real life I’m a loser and can’t control my surroundings, in this game I am a strong hero and in control of my own destiny.”
I opened with an allusion to agnosticism and atheist views of control and then tangented into illustrations of the human craving for control. Now I’m going to bring it back. The first quote came from philosopher Jerry Fodor, as quoted in the article, “First Person Plural” (in the November 2008 edition of the Atlantic). This sounds nice, and it’s easy to see how this view of the self is more attractive than that of Christianity. Really, who wants some invisible entity telling us what we can and can’t do? That whole Sovereignty of God thing is just made to to deny us all control of our lives. Karl Marx argued that’s why humans invented god: as an opiate to make sense of a world that seems largely outside our control (which brings into question the similarities between the God-concept and WoW).
However, aforementioned article also poses an alternative view–or “radical” view to use the terminology in the article–that “if you accept that our brains are a myriad of smaller components, you must reject such notions as character, praise, blame, and free will.”I’d like to either expand this argument or alter it so it includes thought. The very construction of neurons and neural circuits (ultimately including the entire nervous system) is essentially reactionary: neurons fire if and only if enough innervating (preceding) neurons fire. (This isn’t entirely true, there is an element of randomness, but randomness doesn’t offer any more control, arguably less, so I’ll simplify the model the way they do in undergrad classes.) For example one neuron fires, say because a specific frequency is heard, which causes another to fire, and another, until it reaches the auditory cortex and the information is “processed,” which really just means is sent around from one neuron to the next and the path of the signal is how it gets “meaning.” Eventually the signal will die because a given neuron won’t pass it on for whatever reason (inhibition neurons, not enough EPSPs, randomness, etc.). The point is that action potentials–according to theory–don’t start or stop as we want them to, but solely due to reactions to either external stimuli or other neurons. Unpleasant as it sounds, this radical view makes far more sense than Fodor’s desire does in light of neuroscientific theory.
So the opening line of reasoning on the part of agnostics and atheists denying the Christian God because they want control isn’t reasoning so much as it is wishful thinking. Here’s where my own argument comes in: only in the context of possessing a metaphysical mind are we capable of controlling our own thoughts, and only in the context of a metaphysical creator can we have such a mind. The mind needs to be metaphysical because it needs to be above the reactionary nature of physical neurons if we are to have control of thought. A metaphysical creator is necessary because evolution* only acts on the physical DNA and that cannot account for a metaphysical mind.
*which is “true” in the way any scientific theory is true: it’s a work in progress, but given available resources it’s the best we’ve got.
So here’s the paradox: Only in the context of a metaphysical creator (e.g. the Christian God) do we have control over our thoughts. Rejecting the idea of God also means rejecting the possibility of the most internal form of control we have: control of our thoughts–the outside world gives us even less control. That said, the control we have in the context of the Christian God must be surrendered to Him, but at least we have some control including the choice of whether to retain or surrender that control. Contrary to popular belief and intuition, our control can only come from God, and if God does not exist, then neither do we have any sort of control over our lives.
The Blacksheep sends his love